New Jersey Department of Health

PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
Friday, December 2, 2016

Cathleen D. Bennett

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Reminder: December 31 Deadline for Birth Parents to Submit Redaction Requests

Adoption Records to be Released in January 2017

Under a new state adoption law, birth parents who want to maintain their privacy have until December 31, 2016 to submit requests to the Department of Health to have their personal identifying information redacted from their child’s original birth certificate.

The law applies to adoptions finalized before August 1, 2015. Beginning January 2017, adoptees will be able to obtain copies of their original birth certificates.

In August 2015, the Department began implementing a new adoption law signed by Governor Chris Christie that gives adult adoptees the opportunity to access their birth records without obtaining a court order. The law was a compromise, balancing the rights of adoptees to learn more about their birth parents with the rights of birth parents to remain anonymous.

The redaction process is voluntary. However, if a birth parent has not requested any information be redacted, an adoptee will receive a copy of their original birth certificate with all information recorded at the time of their birth. While there is no deadline for contact preference forms to be submitted, redactions will not be accepted after December 31, 2016, so as to comply with the law.

Birth parents who choose to have their names redacted can reverse that decision at any time and make their identities known. 

About 170,000 envelopes dating back to November 1940 (when records were officially sealed) are currently stacked in 30, 6-foot-tall filing cabinets at the Department. These envelopes could contain documentation for more than one child, so there could be approximately 300,000 paper-based birth records that must be reviewed in order to match requests for original birth records with the correct sealed record. The request then has to be cross-referenced against redaction and contact requests submitted by birth parents before adoptees can obtain them. Due to this lengthy process, all requested certificates will be mailed and will not be available for in-person pick up. Exact turnaround time will depend on the volume of requests received.

“A complex, multi-step process is involved in searching 300,000 sealed birth records and matching them against adoption decrees and redaction requests,” Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett explained. “To ensure that the Department provides accurate records while honoring the privacy request of birth parents, the Department will send adoptees their records by mail after a careful search is conducted.”

A birth parent can opt to either not be contacted or to be contacted directly by an adoptee or through an intermediary. Intermediaries could include an adoption agency, a lawyer, a minister or a relative. Contact preference, family history and redaction forms can be found here. In order for the contact preference form to be accepted, the birth parent must also submit a completed Family History Information form, which includes medical, cultural and social history information about the birth parent.

Over the past six months, the Department has been reaching out to national adoption agencies and community-based organizations across the country to spread the word about changes to New Jersey’s adoption law. Throughout December, the Department will use social media to remind those who wish to redact personal information to submit their requests by the end of the month.

Those who may request copies of birth certificates are adult adoptees; direct descendants, siblings or spouses of adopted persons; adoptive parents, legal guardians or other legal representatives of adopted persons; or state or federal government agencies for official purposes. Individuals can apply for birth records by filling out this out this form. The fee is $25 and then $2 for each additional copy.

Applicants will receive uncertified copies of birth certificates on file with the Office of Vital Statistics and Registry. Copies are for informational purposes only and cannot be used for legal proof of identity or citizenship, or as a substitute for an official birth certificate.

For more information on the new adoption law, call 609-292-4087 or visit the Department’s Frequently Asked Questions.

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